Starline Tours, the company behind those roofless vans and busses that clog the roads in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, promises patrons the chance to get closer to their favorite celebrities, safely viewing them in their natural habitats while remaining ready to make a quick escape should the encounter turn violent. But at the Oscars on Sunday night, Jimmy Kimmel asked the crowd—and the world—who the real zoo animals were. Much as past hosts have ordered pizza, Kimmel ordered some hapless tourists for celebrities to poke and prod, raising questions about spectatorship, the surveillance state, and, indeed, the very nature of reality itself.
Kimmel ably served as the mad puppet master behind this Twilight Zone switcheroo, gleefully ushering the tourists to the very front of the Oscar stage and introducing them to stars like Denzel Washington and Nicole Kidman. But while the tourists gaped at faces they knew from the silver screen, the celebs gaped back. It was a chilling reminder that, as Nietzsche wrote, “wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein,” (“While you stare like a fool at Ryan Gosling, the entire world is judging you on the Oscar telecast.”) What’s more, it gave some of the greatest creative talents in the world a rare opportunity to meet the audience they serve: people who love movies so much they buy tickets to ride busses past celebrities’ homes but don’t love them quite enough to watch the Academy Awards. It really made us all think.